Knicks know job isn't done after clinching No. 4 seed in NBA playoffs, setting up Hawks first-round series

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RJ Barrett Julius Randle celebrate 5/16
RJ Barrett Julius Randle celebrate 5/16

The Knicks clinched the Eastern Conference's No. 4 seed Sunday at MSG with a 96-92 win over the Boston Celtics, checking off a targeted goal and securing a first-round NBA playoffs matchup against the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.

New York (41-31) celebrated accordingly after a third straight victory to close the regular season locked it into its desired landing spot. At the same time, though, a collective mindset remained.

"The season continues on," said head coach Tom Thibodeau, who has a history of leading teams into the postseason as a head coach with the Chicago Bulls (2010-15) and Minnesota Timberwolves (2017-19). "So it's important to appreciate the effort and the work that has gone into it thus far, but to also understand that the challenge continues and there's an intensity level to the playoffs that is much different than the regular season. So we have to prepare ourselves for that as well."

Thibodeau's sentiments trickled down to second-year guard RJ Barrett, who kept a hungry mindset after leading the Knicks with a game-high 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting against the Celtics (36-36).

"We're fighting for something, every single game," Barrett said. "And that's a good feeling. We're a tough, resilient team and we kind of made our name off that. So just really excited to go into the playoffs and just fight hard and see what we can do."

As the Knicks await Atlanta, which ended the regular season on a high note Sunday with a 124-95 rout of the Houston Rockets, All-Star forward Julius Randle embraces New York's next challenge.

"Extremely," Randle said when asked about how ready he feels for his first career postseason appearance. "At the end of the day, it's basketball. The intensity's going to be raised. But with the way I prepare, from game to game, I don't think my habits will change. I think I do a good job of preparing myself to play on a night-to-night basis and I'm going to do the same thing for me, as far as going into the game -- I prepare my film study, I prepare my body, I prepare on the court before a game, game plan.

"It's just a focus and intensity is just going to be raised a level, for me."